British musical duo Public Service Broadcasting takes us on the race for space

The World
British music duo Public Service Broadcasting.

British music duo Public Service Broadcasting.

Dan Kendall

Nerdy names, nerdy glasses and a nerdy obsession with archival sounds and old propaganda films — that's the schtick of Public Service Broadcasting, a British musical duo that stopped by our studio in Boston this week.

The conceptual band plays instrumental music over old film footage and found sound. Their latest album, "The Race for Space," plays on the propaganda films pumped out by the Americans and the Soviets from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, during the space race. And, like any good propaganda, their sound hooks you in an eerie, manipulative way.

"[The songs] are not presented without irony. Some of the Soviet stuff is sort of nakedly propaganda-fied — if that's a word," says J. Willgoose, Esq., who plays the guitar, banjo and other stringed instruments along with samplings and electronic instruments. He and drummer Wrigglesworth both go by pseudonyms.

Take the track "E.V.A.," which celebrates the first-ever spacewalk, taken by Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov in March 1965. The song features an authoritative voice shouting, "TEN MINUTES IN SPACE. TEN MINUTES THAT SHOOK THE WORLD!"

"They make no mention of the fact that he was out there for 20 minutes and nearly died because his suit inflated and it was a total disaster," Willgoose says, "For people who kind of know that side of the story, they'll get that slight irony. But we like to leave a bit of room for interpretation. A bit of room for the imagination, hence a bit of mystery in some things."

Willgoose jokes that the archival tape is actually more important than the music. "I was just looking for interesting sounding voices that could spruce up possibly boring instrumental music," he says.

Much of the Soviet sound used in their current album was culled from the archives of the British Film Institute, who recently inherited a trove of Soviet space propaganda films.

The duo also pulled a lot of sound from NASA’s archives. In fact, many of the Apollo missions are available to listen to in their entirety from NASA’s website. “NASA is just a fantastically open and accessible resource," Willgoose says. "They seem to have taken the ‘For all mankind’ mantra in everything they do.’”

The duo is wrapping up a US tour , and while Willgoose is fairly vocal about his obsession with finding a decent cup of tea in America, he's tight lipped about their next project.

"Trying to keep bit of mystery about things," he says. But if you’re looking for more audio/archival "propaganda-fied" adventures, the duo's "Everest" mashes archival tape from Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's ascent up Mt. Everest.